Walking around yesterday evening, we met a young lady named Hazel. She was about 20 years of age, and is originally from the Philippines. We know that is not her real name. Now, how did she or someone in her family choose Hazel? Sheri thought it is because her eyes were hazel, or that her Mom watched Hazel reruns on TV. We have many friends and relatives who chose American names, despite having another name on their birth certificate.
We saw Hazel again last night, but forgot to ask about her name. I think the Store Manager was making eyes at her, so the timing was not good. She is an attractive, young lady, but Hazel just does not fit. It should be something like Desiree, or Fenna, or Sabrina. Are any of you reading this right now? I miss the really old names like Hannah, Camille, and Phyllis. And don’t forget Harold, Ahmad, and Yoshi.
First, and foremost, were my Mom and Dad. My Mom’s real name is Sumiye, but she is has been Frances every since I knew her. My Dad’s name was Takekazu, but he was known as Frank my whole life. His closest Caucasian friends called him “Olie”, since we grew up in a town of 3000 Swedes. None of my Dad’s brothers had an American nickname. Their two sisters had logical nicknames, since Natsue became Nancy, and Kikuye became Kay. My Mom’s sister was Fumiko, but became Bette. And their now deceased brother, Yasuo became George. I will have to ask how they got these names. My Uncle Sus was called Jimmy by all of the migrant farm workers. And my ex father in law, Ichiro was called Mike, Slim or Itch.
We have a dear friend from Malaysia by the name of Sohbee. We just love that name. But she chose to be called Pansey, when Sheri met her at the local community college. Maybe it is because her husband’s name is Tom, and their daughter is Isabelle. I also find it amusing when someone chooses a French or German name, but is ethnically something else.
I knew a lady once named Jackie. She was from Japan, so I asked how she got her name. When she came over to the US, and started working, she only knew two words, Coca Cola, and Cracker Jacks. Not only was that her lunchtime meal, it became her name!!!
When we were kids, we had silly names for our cousins. Walter and Gary became Waawaa, and Gooey. Kenny became Kenji, Gerry became Jet, Bob became Bob, Connie became Conno, and Carolyn became Kettle. Marlene became Mariko, and Haruko became Helen. Don’t ask me how this happened.
One of the best Seinfeld episodes is about a gal Jerry dated. He would forget her name, but she reminded him that it rhymed with a female body part. He tried every possible word, like Mulva, Regina, and Gipple. It turned out to be Delores. I also got a kick out of most of Elaine’s boyfriends having one syllable first and last names, like Lloyd Braun, Todd Gak, and Bob Cobb.
One favorite nickname we gave a dear fraternity brother in Pharmacy School, was Bagman. He got the name because during a panty raid one night, he walked out of the fraternity house in nothing but a paper bag over his head, and a pair of sneakers!!! Nobody messed with him since he was also on the football team. Of course, we also had the Mad Bomber, who threw water balloons off of the 3rd floor, and The Sphincter, for obvious reasons. We also had the Anti-Body, Captain Deek and his Merrymen, Gator, the Penguin, Gi(gantic), Muff, Odie, Chink, and Tuna.
Of course, we always made fun of our bosses. We called Rich by the cute name of Baby Huey. There was Mil the Pill, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Sam the Sham. I had a very heavy set boss once, and we called him El Hefe, which people mistook for “Heifer”. I had a semi-gay boss once, so we called him Roy Boy, or Boy Roy.
I have to believe that one of the main reasons for changing a first name is peer pressure. I think that fellow students in grade school either taunt the kids with ethnic names, or like most teachers, cannot pronounce them properly. This goes for last names as well. They called my son, “Caddy” because he was a good golfer. I am sure it was a take off on our last name caddy-oka.
The other part of most ethnic names is that they have another meaning in their native language. This may apply both to the first name and the last name. Taking a lesson from Native Americans who were named for something in nature, this may have been an anthropological inheritance. You all know the Japanese tire company, Bridgestone. The Japanese name is Ishi (stone), and bashi (bridge).
My guess is that most of our foreign friends just “took” a name from whatever their parents’ fancy was at the time. Our friend, Jackson in the Peruvian Amazon was named for, you guessed it, none other than Michael Jackson. We never did find out the real name of our friend Danny in Bangkok.
Our tailor in Bangkok is Harry, but his real name is derived from the Nepalese name, Hari.
One of the easiest things to do in the Japanese language, is to add the endearing term, “chan” to someone’s first name. My brother Robert was called Bobby-chan. Or we could add a “ko” to the end of the first name, making Sumiye into Sumi-ko (I think). Of course, we could just pretend to be from Arkansas and call everyone “Bubba”.
We assigned nicknames in junior high and high school on physical characteristics. The center on our basketball team was called “Stick”. The guard on our football team was called “Stump”. How did Stubby get his nickname? The teacher with his hands in his pockets all the time was called “Scratch”. The tall girls were called Olive Oyl, and the chubby ones, Petunia. But it always seemed easier to give the guys a nickname than a girl. Maybe we were too nice back then. My coach called me the Oriental Express after my first football game.
Our dog has many names as well. He came to us as a rescue, so we got to name him Buddy. Then we added to it from there, such as Bud, Budster, Skruffy, Skrufster, Little Pal, and Trouble. Animals seem to be quite adaptable, and will answer to any name, especially if they are hungry. Come to think of it, so do I.
On the golf course, we assign nicknames on the spot. A good one is “Lucky”, because we always say we would rather be lucky than good. If the putts are left short, we call the player, Alice, or we ask if their husband plays golf too. When we hit the ball a long way, we are called Bubba, or Long John. If we hit the ball into the sand trap, we are called Tommy Sands or Sandy Duncan.
Now, some of my friends with ethnic pride have chosen a Japanese middle name when our parents did not. I do not have a Japanese middle name, nor do any of my siblings. But my son Matt, and daughter Sarah have Japanese middle names. Matt is Ichiro (first son), and Sarah is Ai (love). I think in my case, it was because we were born right after WW2 and the relocation. Our parents were overly sensitive to the hysteria of being Japanese in a country that sent them to a barren dessert to live in tar paper barracks in the middle of nowhere.
We always added a Bob or Sue or Jo to the names of our Southern friends. My pal, Ken Lewis in Atlanta became Ken Bob, and he called me Gerry Bob. I never did find out what to do when they are already named Bob or Sue. My brother would be Bob, Bob, Bob!! When in doubt, fall back on Bubba, or Bubette. They would never be able to sing the “Name Game” song in the South, since the name would always end in Bob or Sue.
The latest craze for nicknames is to take the first letter of the first name, and add it to a shortened last name. The pro athletes do this, so we have names like T Mac (Tracy McGrady), and D Wade (Duane Wade). Others just happen, like Dice K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) or JiRo (Jimmy Rollins). My favorite nickname in golf is the one given Arnold Palmer. He is simply called the
“King”, and deservedly so. He is one of the nicest people we have ever met anywhere.
So much for my anthology on nicknames, and stories. I have always been a Gerry and will probably not ever change. But just one time, I wish I was “Ace” because I am still waiting for my elusive hole in one on the golf course. You will know when it happens, the whole world will know!!!